No trip to Philly is complete without a cheesesteak and the battle about which cheesesteak-erie (Geno’s, Pat’s or Jim’s) is king rages hard among locals. There are about an even number of fans in each camp, maybe a bit more in that of Geno’s, the most well marketed and, thus, known among the three. I went to two out of the three, and for me the winner between these two at least was pretty clear.
Geno’s, directly across the street from it’s #1 rival, Pat’s, was originally opened in 1966 and claims to sell over 4,500 sandwiches per day. The interior of the place is decorated with Philly memorabilia an intense number of autographed photos of the restaurant’s celebrity guests. The exterior is plastered with glowing neon lights, making the place visible from many blocks away. The original owner and founder of the place, Joey Vento, died of a heart attack. Not a good sign. Anyway, on to the cheesesteaks…
It was okay, and at the time I was in the middle of a road trip and thus starving in anticipation for the place, so it hit the spot. The quality, however, especially considering the price ($10 per sandwich) was a bit lacking in my opinion. The bread was not toasted long enough – no doubt, a result of the very long line of customers seemingly always present at the place. There steak was thinly sliced and a bit too dry for my taste, and there was really not enough of it. It was also not seasoned at all and was even under-salted, in my opinion. A cheesesteak, especially one so famous for quality, should be EXPLODING with meat and this one had a meat:bread ratio which left me wanting. The provolone was nice but it was not added to the meat as the latter cooked, so it didn’t really have the chance to melt onto it. Instead, it was placed at the bottom of the meat in the sandwich and kind of just sat there, cold and rigid and uncommunicative. I appreciated the pickled whole chili peppers available, besides the typical mustard-ketchup-hot sauce offerings, as a topping in unlimited proportions. These were spicy and sweet and tangy and delicious, but the liquid ended up being soaked up by the bread instead of mixing with the meat (which, again, there was not enough of).
Good but could have been better.
The second place I visited, Jim’s, was far better. Located on bustling and kind of touristy South Street, Jim’s comes with a line just as long, if not longer, than Geno’s. This was to be expected and I didn’t mind too much. Good food is worth waiting for. Good, famous food even more so. The place is far less shiny and in-your-face as Geno’s, much more subtle with decorations and lighting. The guys behind the grill look serious and truly seem like they care about what they’re doing. The place has a more authentic, cool vibe to it and the upstairs “dining room” is very casual with paper plates and plastic forks and beers and good times. The sandwich is also far better (although the quality of this photo, taken with a Blackberry is horrid – my apologies), with the steak, though thinly sliced here too, much juicier and moister than at Geno’s. It was also much more nicely seasoned, with plenty of salt and pepper, but still allowing the meat to shine through in its beefy goodness. Very little fat, very lean, a beautifully marbled ribeye. Mixed in were plenty of grilled peppers and onions which added a great crunch (not overcooked) and a nice sweetness to the meat. The cheese wizz was also wonderful with the meat, adding a salty, creamy richness to it like a sweet mayo-based sauce. The bread, again, was not toasted enough for me, but I could look past this because of the juicy quality of the meat which shined through beautifully.
In addendum, I like cheesesteaks. And I miss America.